A Year in the Life: Week 16

Catie MurphyCatie Murphy
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The past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a whole lot of something I don’t usually do: group brainstorming sessions.

I have a new project–and I cannot, of course, go into detail, because it’s so tentative still that there’s no detail to go *into*–but I have a project that’s gotten some editorial interest. It would be a Large Project, large enough that I did a pre-proposal for my editor before even thinking about doing a proposal.

What’s a pre-proposal, you ask? Well, in this case it’s 8 pages of very general plot, world, and character sketches: enough to say “Is this perhaps the kind of thing you’re looking for?” This project would be so big that I needed a sense of whether I was even in the right ballpark, whether it was something that *seemed* like it was on the right track, before I could even consider writing a *real* proposal for it.

The great thing is that my editor was definitely interested–she thought it was the Right Kind Of Thing–and she even willing to take the pre-proposal around to other editors at the house to see if they too thought it was the Right Kind Of Thing. I decided against that, because if I had a sniff of interest from her I thought it would be better to put together something more comprehensive as the real selling package. This means I’m probably going to put in 6-12 weeks of work on something that might never sell…but I feel that putting that time in and making it shine is far more likely to make it sell than hoping editors will see through the rough to the diamond beneath.

But: it’s a kind of project I’ve never come anywhere near doing before. This makes it INCREDIBLY EXCITING! …and also somewhat alarming. So for the first time in years, I’m actually going to a small group of people and laying out my initial thoughts and ideas and asking for feedback and *their* leaps of intuition and consideration.

Typically I’ve done this kind of thing with my husband (who is flipping brilliant at it) and one other friend, and it’s always been incredibly helpful. But I like to work…not exactly in a vacuum, obviously, but I don’t like a lot of interference once I get started. It makes me uncertain, and I need to feel confident in what I’m doing or it all goes to hell.

This, however, is very much pre-starting material, and wow, it’s been so, so fun and so enlightening. I’ve got, I don’t know, half a dozen anyway, professional writers in this brainstorming group, and at least that many, possibly twice that many, readers. Some of the readers in particular are evidently really enjoying getting to see my process, especially when I take something they suggested and lay it out in a way they never imagined. The writers are particularly sharp on the “here are places and books to use for research” front, and as a whole *other* peoples’ excitement helps build mine. It’s been a really terrific experiment thus far, and I’m wonderfully glad I’ve decided to go this route with this particular project.

How about you guys? Do you do a lot of group brainstorming? Do you belong to writers’ groups? How’s it work for you?

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8 comments to A Year in the Life: Week 16

  • Does my wife and I count as a group? I tend to use her as a sounding board for ideas and we bounce thoughts and suggestions back and forth until I’m satisfied with what’s there. We’ve basically worked up two of my novels in synopsis form together and fixed problems I’ve had while writing a couple others. She’s also a writer, but hasn’t done it for a while. I think maybe she got stuck somewhere along the way and lost the stride.

  • I have never been able to do this. I always feel that I have a limited amount of creative energy in any book or series idea, and I fear that the more I talk about it, the more I allow that energy to dissipate. I also find that I am very private in my brainstorming, and prefer to let me thoughts develop internally. I’m wary of outside feedback and afraid of having people tell me that an idea doesn’t sound good before it’s fully developed. But I have to admit that I’m intrigued by your post. I might have to rethink some of this stuff. Alone, of course….

  • I do have a group of people in a writing group that I run ideas past and they help me work through difficult plot knots. I think the hive mind can be very effective if it is sufficently intelligent enough and if they are honest enough to give constructive critisim.

  • I sympathize with David, once a story starts rolling I don’t like to get much feedback, as it can derail me, but I like to brainstorm pitch ideas with my critique partners and see what sparks and what doesn’t, before I start the ball rolling. Interesting post, thanks, and good luck with the Big Project! :)

  • ajp88

    I live for brainstorming sessions. My closest confidant moved an hour way, so we don’t hang out often enough. But when we do, I always have some new revelation about a character or plotline brought on by something he says. Sometimes it’s from a simple question, or sometimes a suggestion that I twist to my own devices and run with.

    I’ve also joined a local writing group. The leader seems intent on these frivolous prompt exercises that don’t really appeal to me. Lately I haven’t participated in those readings, and if I do I simply delete whatever I’ve written after I’ve shared it, but I come early and stay late to talk with the other writers about everything storytelling. That part I love.

  • I belong to a local writers group which gives me great feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and why.

    I also belong to an online group which is a bit better for brainstorming, for me, because membership is global and I get all kinds of perspectives on issues. So many members are experts in various fields. We have physicists who actually understand “teleportation” and can tell you why that’s a misleading term; people who can talk you under the table in five minutes authoritatively explaining how planets form; people who’ve done traditional and self-publishing and can go into detail on those aspects; teachers, journalists, editors from small publishers, and a host of other folks who are really willing to share and help turn on that lightbulb over my head.

    So often as I’m writing a question will occur to me and I’ll open another window to post it to the group. Right at my fingertips, I have a living encyclopedia, better than wikipedia. We debate, we change minds, we stick to our guns. I’m not alone: :)

  • I belonged to an awesome writing group for several years before “Mad Kestrel” was sold, and it made worlds of difference in my work. It eventually disbanded because people moved away, got married, and had other life-changing events go on, and I miss the connections and camaraderie we enjoyed. I also miss the deadline – I had to have at least five pages ready to be critiqued every week. For someone who writes as slowly as I do, having that deadline was a great driver. If I didn’t bring pages, I’d be read the riot act, and believe me, I didn’t want that!

  • Speaking as Misty’s head riot-act-reader, crit groups are wonderful for the struggling writer, or the writer startnng a new series, or the writer … They are good. Or can be. And though the best writing group *evah* is no more, I do still enjoy a spot of plot pitching and brainstorming.